Simon Zebo points to South African influence for no-fear style of play
Munster and Ireland winger lauds Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber for new approach to his game
Ireland winner Simon Zebo at an Ireland squad training at Carton House, Kildare. “If I go with my gut instinct nine times out of 10 I feel like it’ll come off,” he says. Photograph: Inpho
“We’ve definitely taken some new learnings from (Irish) camps,” said Zebo before elevating Munster’s South African pair into thin air. Zebo likes what he hears. It is nothing specific but whatever magic dust the Erasmus and Nienaber team have sprinkled over Ireland’s winger, whatever epiphanies they have gifted him with, have transformed his thinking.
“They’ve been massive. They’ve probably influenced me most I’d say in such a short space of time,” he says. “They haven’t pushed anything. They’ve given me a different kind of, I don’t know, confidence or something, not that I needed it.
“Like if you make a mistake ‘no problem’. I probably haven’t heard that too much in my career, when I was coming up. I don’t know whether it’s where they are from. They’ve just been excellent in allowing me to play with no fear whatsoever.
“We’re on a good run of games with Munster and I think a lot of that is down to those two lads, especially taking us on from where they had to and, yeah, they’ve had a pretty big impact on me as a person and a player.”
Stepping into the national landscape is stepping into a different world of new “learnings”. Zebo has grown comfortably into the skin of an international player with creative capability.
With Andrew Trimble struggling with injury and Tommy Bowe, even for Ulster not firing, he expects, from Joe Schmidt and from himself. November form and growing influence gives him licence to think big.
“Yeah, it would be very tough, to be honest,” he says about starting against Scotland from the bench. “I’d back myself when I’m playing well to play. So if I’m playing well and then not playing (for Ireland), then I’m not going to be happy.”
Ireland have their own fizz ready to uncork, Zebo among them. In the end it could be the difference.
“As long as I’m healthy and fit and we’ve got that attacking mindset and no fear about us, then myself, Earlsy, Garry Ringrose, all these players who are able to bring out special moments in games,” he says.
“As long as we go out with the right mindset then those players will be able to keep riding the wave and the momentum and keep the big performances coming.”
Zebo says there is better to come from him, that he is not the apprentice but a player Schmidt can rely on for due diligence in the position. Also, like Ringrose and Hogg and Russell, a character whose reach can outstrip the more conservative strictures of the play book. His default mode is instinct.
Stander also explained how instinct gave him the extra second, how it buys time in a frenzied, high-tempo environment, where there is everything but time. Tied in is permission for instinct not to work out. In a way it’s a form of liberation and Zebo likes it.
“If I go with my gut instinct nine times out of 10 I feel like it’ll come off,” he says. “If I make a mistake, I’ll live with it. Rugby careers are too short to be playing with that kind of fear.”
“I still go out and try to play the way I did when I was 19 or 20, enjoy myself and not be afraid to try things. I back myself to do things on the pitch. I’ve done alright so far so if I continue to improve I can go even better.”
Fighting talk and it sounds more enjoyable too.